America is finally on the cusp of enacting a federal law to cap global warming pollution and the focus on how it will affect our economy has never been greater. When President Obama last week called on Congress to send him such a bill, he underscored the economic necessity of creating new jobs by reinventing our energy supply. Not surprisingly, longtime opponents of taking action argued that a cap will hurt business and consumers.
But the most important piece of this debate has largely been overlooked. Right now, tens of thousands of workers in hundreds of communities are poised to benefit from a nationwide cap on carbon emissions -- and they're right in our backyards.
When America caps its carbon emissions, manufacturing companies from coal country to the rust belt and beyond will see a surge of customers looking to cut pollution, reduce energy use and expand their use of renewables like wind and solar.
These are real companies with real employees in real American communities. And it's time for their stories to be heard.
Take Dwayne Esterline of Eaton Rapids, Michigan. Dwayne spent 15 years manufacturing auto parts for everyone from General Motors to Daimler Chrysler. In June 2008, with the auto industry struggling, he took a chance and joined Dowding Industries. Dowding has been in Michigan for over 40 years, and they'd recently begun manufacturing large-scale machine parts for wind turbines.
Dwayne's manufacturing background was a perfect fit, and he sees his story as a model for workers across the country.
"I look at the future of the wind industry, and this is a positive place to be," he says. "It's nice to be a part of something that's growing and creating jobs. I think people in communities like mine need to reinvent themselves and apply their skills to the green energy revolution."
LessCarbonMoreJobs.org, a new resource created by Environmental Defense Fund, was designed to give a voice to stories like Dwayne's. Users can search by city, state, Congressional district and media market to find companies like Dowding Industries in twelve key manufacturing states -- Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, Missouri, New Hampshire, Florida, Colorado and Arkansas.
We chose these states because their elected representatives in Washington will play a key role in deciding whether we place a cap on carbon this year, and because their workers are ready and waiting for economic opportunities.
Bill Keith of St. John, Indiana, operates a company that employs 25 of those workers at its main facility and many more in its local and regional supply chain. A few years ago Bill, who co-owned a roofing company with his brother, invented a solar-powered attic fan that vents hot air and reduces energy bills. Demand took off quickly, and today Bill's fans are installed in the Honolulu airport, the Michigan governor's mansion and the visitors' centers at several national parks.
Now Bill runs a company called SunRise Solar that builds and sells his fans, and he -- like entrepreneurs across the heartland -- is waiting for the customers that will come knocking when America passes a carbon cap and industries big and small look to lower their energy consumption.
"We've been greeted with overwhelming support and demand," Bill says. "But we know there's much more to do. We're hoping Congress finally puts the economy on a path to embrace these technologies. My operation is ready to grow, and I know others companies like mine are ready too."
Of course, many companies in this sector are struggling in the midst of the recession, and they're a part of LessCarbonMoreJobs.org too. Firms that saw rapid growth -- and hired quickly - are now hoping for something to reinvigorate demand as they try to avoid layoffs. The clock is ticking and these companies don't have much time to lose.
Short-term steps, like the funding for efficiency and renewables in the recent stimulus bill, will help. But nothing will compare to the flood of private investment in solutions -- and the companies and workers to produce them -- that a cap on carbon emissions will unleash.
The science tells us we have to act now to fight climate change, and the thousands of business owners and workers on LessCarbonMoreJobs.org tell us that unless we move quickly, we risk losing the progress made in so many manufacturing communities. Let's hope our leaders see the opportunity at hand, and embrace it.
Jackie Roberts is Director of Sustainable Technologies at the Environmental Defense Fund.